[This entry was originally posted at the end of my 2010 Fulbright-Hayes trip to UAE-Qatar-Kuwait]
Tonight, dear readers, marks the end of my travels. (My flight leaves in a few hours.) Since this is the end of my journey, and since everybody knows how dangerous the Middle East is, I feel obligated to comment on all the dangers I have endured while on my trip. They have been many and painful, but I will highlight only a few.
Danger #1: Being stuffed to death. The Arabs are a hospitable people, and one way of showing hospitality is to gorge one’s guests with food. If it’s not feeding time, no matter. Then you simply stuff your guests with sweets or small sandwich thingys. Are we being fattened up for the slaughter?
Danger #2: Multiculturalism run amok. The Middle-East is a complex mix of cultures; some people from different cultures intermarry, others simply work for one another. This is all well and good—in moderation. Sometimes, however, the multiculturalism gets out of hand, and then There is Pain. An example that comes to mind is the time I was forced by Our Leader to spend time at the Villagio Mall in Doha, Qatar. In this Arab city, this mall (an American invention) was designed to imitate an Italian city—Venice, to be specific—complete with fake gondolas on fake canals. If that weren’t bad enough, loud, harsh, technofunky something music (must I blame America again?) blasted out of the Virgin store while I stood ordering food from the Mongolian grill. A severe headache ensued. In Mongolia-land, whenever a meal was ready, the Indian employees banged on a gong with all their might. BOINGGGGGGGG!!!! went the reverberations in my poor aching skull. This brand of multiculturalism is enough to send me to the desert to commune silently with the camels.
Danger #3: Spending “fun time” on a dhow. Somebody has decided that a good way to keep tourists occupied is to stick them on a dhow (a traditional boat) and let them drift for a few hours. Our Leaders decided this would be good for us TWICE. The first time was a dinner cruise at night in Dubai. Although Dubai is, of course, part of an Arab country, the operators and all of the tourists except us on this dinner cruise were Indian. This would not be a problem except that they decided the best way to entertain us would be to blast out loud Indian music so that we could get massive headaches and not be able to talk to each other. There was an Indian buffet, but were kept from the food well past our feeding time (I was SO hungry on this trip, which explains my crankiness to a great extent) by being forced to watch a “magician.” I put quotes around “magician,” because this Indian man who was dressed like a pimp (a pink hat????), apparently knew no magic. He kept pouring water from one container into another and then looking at us like he had just performed magic. We were very confused. We were hungry and in pain. At one point he started a napkin on fire and seemed to expect applause for this magic. We were even hungrier and becoming surly. After what seemed like hours of this torture, the Magician Pimp finally gave up and we were allowed to eat. This soothed me a little bit, but we still remained trapped with the pounding Indian music for what seemed like hours on this stuffy boat. Since it was dark, we couldn’t see anything outside, but I suppose it was lovely.
As if that weren’t enough torture, we were given another dhow tour in a different country. This time it was during the day. It was maybe 115 degrees. While we were moving (the first half hour or so), it was sort of fun. But then they anchored off shore and just let us sit in the sun and heat for almost three hours. There was no air conditioning and the gentle rocking made me quite sea sick. I lay in the blinding heat, listening to the buzzing sound of the jet skis and the misognynist rap music and wondered how I would survive the dangerous Middle East